The Church in Cuba After Fidel Castro

Aid Organization Notes Need for More Native Priests

KOENIGSTEIN, Germany, FEB. 20, 2008 ( The Church in Cuba’s main obstacle is a lack of staff, especially priests who are natives to the island nation, said Aid to the Church in Need’s specialist on Cuba.

Javier Legorreta and his aid organization have turned their attention to Cuba, as President Fidel Castro announced Tuesday that he will not seek or accept another term as president, and as the Pope’s secretary of state is set to arrive to the island nation tonight.

Though Cardinal Bertone’s visit was not planned to coincide with Castro’s resignation, and in fact marks the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the nation, Legorreta called the coincidence “a great grace from God.”

“Cardinal Bertone may indeed play an important role in the political transformation of the country,” Legorreta said. “After 49 years of rule by Fidel Castro what happens on the 24th of February [when Parliament meets] is very important to Cuba.

“Cardinal Bertone can help this change of power to take place in peace and in a spirit of reconciliation within the country. This is something the Catholic Church in Cuba has already long seen as her mission, and Cardinal Bertone will endeavor to strengthen her in this.”

Seeking collaborators

The Aid to the Church in Need official said that a particularly important challenge for the Church in Cuba will be working for a better understanding and collaboration between the Cuban exiles and the people who have stayed in the country.

He said the Church’s greatest obstacle in this is “the lack of hands, of coworkers, of people who are willing to commit to the task — and likewise of native Cuban priests.”

Legorreta pointed to the case of the Diocese of Guantanamo-Baracoa, which John Paul II established during his visit to Cuba in 1998.

“Currently there are 10 priests working there altogether, of whom just a single one is Cuban,” Legorreta explained. “Even in the seminary there is just one single candidate from this diocese, so that the situation will not change so quickly in the next few years. The Church in Cuba is dependent on foreign missionaries; but for them it is often difficult to obtain an entry visa.”

Father Joaquín Alliende, the spiritual director of Aid to the Church in Need, said he sees Castro’s resignation as “a great opportunity for the Church.” He invited “all those who love the Church in Cuba” to accompany her “in these crucial moments, especially through prayer and with a watchful attentiveness that will lead us to a still more profound solidarity with her.”

The Chilean priest expressed his hope that John Paul II’s prayer would now be fulfilled, that Christians might “live according to their faith” and those who had lost this faith “might regain it.”

The Church lives through the history of her peoples, Father Alliende added, and seeks “every possible opportunity” to make Our Lord “newly present in the constantly changing circumstances of every nation.”

The fact that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is arriving to the country is, the priest said, “a special gift of Jesus,” since in this way Christians in Cuba will be able to experience “the support of the charism, the wisdom and the strength of the successor of Peter, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI.”

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